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Outside the Lab Regulation and standards, Training and education, Profession

The IFCC Vision

Graham Beastall

What are IFCC task forces and why were they formed?

A task force is made up of a panel of international experts spanning many different disciplines (for example, laboratory managers, geneticists, pathologists, regulators, analytical scientists), to address a broad, contemporary issue that is relevant to the laboratory medicine and clinical chemistry community.

The IFCC structures its activities around three specific areas: science, education, and management. Around 10 years ago, we realized that many of our activities straddled all three, which led to the formation of our very first task force – ethics in laboratory medicine. Eleven task forces now exist, each with the aim of identifying issues, providing guidance and best practice support, and promoting international collaboration. We’re continuously under pressure to ensure the clinical relevance of what our laboratories do, and collaboration with international clinical organizations has become a high priority for us. The task forces offer the best way to do this and through them, we aim to facilitate harmonization of high quality laboratory practices, which results in improved clinical outcomes and patient safety.

What have been some of the biggest successes?

There are three that instantly come to mind. The task force for chronic kidney disease (CKD) is doing some great work for developing countries – they’re providing guidance on how to estimate glomerular filtration rate, to report it in standard ways, and to encourage collaboration with  national renal organizations. This is making a positive difference to huge numbers of patients with CKD.

Millions of diabetes patients worldwide are benefiting from the work of the task force for implementation of HbA1c standardization, which is working with manufacturers to ensure all HbA1c methods are aligned to the global standard. They’re also collaborating with the International Diabetes Federation, IFCC member societies and national diabetes societies to agree reporting criteria and action limits.

I’m also very pleased with the achievements of the task force for young scientists, which has identified hundreds of senior trainees in laboratory medicine from scores of countries around the world. By networking these young scientists through social media they’re identifying common issues (such as training standards) and communicating successes and achievements. Tomorrow’s leaders will have something in common – and a network of friends.

What broad challenges has the IFCC faced?

As with any international project the challenge is to get a high level of engagement and then to find a way forward that attracts unanimous support. The level of engagement is rising as the quality of laboratory medicine improves in developing countries, but unanimity of support is not always possible. For example, practice in Europe and the USA may differ, or some recommendations are beyond the resources of some countries.

What further success can we expect?

We have to be realistic about our expectations – international projects generally progress slowly. However, with modern communication methods it is possible to reach large numbers of people in an interactive manner. Experience has shown that a small number of charismatic ‘champions’ can be more effective in delivering positive outcomes than dry scientific publications (no matter how authoritative). As a society, we benefit hugely from talented volunteers who give freely of their time and expertise in the interests of international harmonization – we have to be optimistic!

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About the Author
Graham Beastall

IFCC President

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